The following post is the twenty-seventh and final of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!
“…And now a few words on the Coaching Inns”
“There is no private house,” said Johnson—it was in the Old Chapel House inn in Oxfordshire, on the Birmingham Road, that he gave vent to the profundity—“there is no place,” he said, at which people can enjoy themselves as well as at a capital tavern like this. Let there be ever so great a plenty of good things, ever so much grandeur, ever so much elegance, ever so much desire that every guest should be easy, in the nature of things it cannot be. There must always be some degree of care and anxiety. The master of the house is anxious to entertain his friends; these in their turn are anxious to be agreeable to him, and to no one but a very impudent dog can as freely command what is in another man’s house as if it were his own. Whereas at a tavern there is a general freedom from anxiety. You are sure you are welcome, and the more noise you make the more trouble you give, the more good things you call for, the welcomer you are. No servants will attend you with the alacrity which waiters do, who are incited by the prospect of an immediate reward in proportion as they please. No, sir; there is nothing which has been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Lamenting the loss of the “finest examples of this hospitable sort of architecture”
Hear, hear! say I; but while on the subject of inns may remark that I have been much disappointed in my ramblings; in truth began some six years too late from this point of view. For in that interval the country has been deprived of many of its finest examples of this hospitable sort of architecture. Of those fine examples—few and far between—which still remain, many are now sinking into a state of irremediable disrepair—witness the great inn at Stilton for one—and will in the near fulness of time doubtless be improved altogether off the face of the earth.
At Norton St. Philip, then, in Somersetshire, seven miles south-east of Bath, there still stands in the George Inn, a half-timbered, fifteenth century house, of the finest possible type. Monmouth passed the night of June 26th, 1685 at this George…At Glastonbury, in the same county, an inn of the same name—the George—with front one splendid mass of panelling, pierced where necessary for windows, the finest piece of domestic work in one of the most entrancing towns in England from an antiquary’s point of view, dates from the fourth Edward; while, to go further afield for a fine specimen of a different period, at Scole in Suffolk, the White Hart, erected in 1655 by John Peck, merchant, of Norwich, still retains some fine carving, and had till the end of the last century an enormous sign containing many figures—Diana and Actaeon, Charon, Cerberus, and sundry other worthies, carved in wood by Fairchild, at a cost of 1057 pounds.
If a minor measure of success attends my enterprize I shall be content—content, that is to say, if I have caught some flavour of the romance of the Great Roads of England from the time when the Flying Machine of Charles the Second’s age lumbered out of the Belle Savage Yard, up to the day when the Holyhead Mail via Shrewsbury, timed at eleven miles an hour, was our fathers’ wonder, and the pride of this perfect road— “Mr. Bicknell’s spicy team of greys.”